Airborne Refueling Management Solution

Today’s security environment is increasingly ambiguous and complex. Recent decades have seen an unprecedented acceleration of technological development especially in the digital domain. Widely available new technologies offer state and non-state adversaries new opportunities to disrupt NATO operations. This has created an environment of strategic urgency for NATO to embrace agile innovation. As the warfighting development command for NATO, Allied Command Transformation, under General Andre Lanata, recently launched an Innovation Branch to focus work in this area. The Innovation Branch employs methodologies to actively seek out solutions for operational user problems and leverage technology to make the NATO warfighters’ mission easier, safer and more effective. One of the lead initiatives is a project called JIGSAW.

Allied Command Transformation innovators travelled to NATO Allied Air Command in October 2019 and gathered user problems in a Dragon’s Den format. One of the challenges presented by Allied Air Command was Tanker planning. The methodologies employed to service airborne refuelling requirements during operations were personnel intensive and required hours of planning. The Allied Command Transformation Innovation team investigated and determined that there was an existing software tool specifically created to handle this task. It is called JIGSAW and was designed by the United States Department of Defence to complete this task in the Air Operations Centres environment.

Only two weeks after the initial discussion with Allied Air Command, Allied Command Transformation Innovators demonstrated JIGSAW during NATO Exercise TRIDENT JUPITER 19-1 in Fall 2019. The capability proved to be a tremendous improvement over existing methodologies and was subsequently tested by NATO personnel during the NATO Specialized Heavy Air Refuelling Course in February 2020.

During the Specialized Heavy Air Refuelling Course a team of four students took three hours (a total of 12 person hours), to plan a series of 108 air refuelling requests, in a notional 24 hour mission day, as part of their course culmination activity. In contrast, using JIGSAW, a single test subject planned the same series of missions in only 1.5 hours with no knowledge of air to air refuelling planning and only 30 minutes of JIGSAW familiarization training. In addition, JIGSAW planned the refuelling requests with only 25 tanker sorties vice the 28 used by the students. This test proved the efficiency of JIGSAW in reducing planning time and resources, as well as increasing operational flexibility during the mission execution phase. JIGSAW provides NATO the opportunity to continue streamlining its processes resulting in a more agile and effective force.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Clow is the Allied Command Transformation Innovation lead for the JIGSAW project. “To keep our nations safe in such an unpredictable environment, we need to keep our Alliance strong. Innovation and experimentation are critical components of NATO’s future defence, security, and deterrence,” said Clow. “A culture of experimentation at Allied Command Transformation allows us to consistently revamp and develop our capabilities and embrace new concepts to make our Alliance more successful.”

As a result of this success, NATO is engaged in a Foreign Military Sales process with the United States Department of Defence to secure the use of JIGSAW for NATO Air Operations Centres by the end of this year. While this process is proceeding, Allied Command Transformation Innovation is actively engaged in several other agile methodology software projects to increase NATOs warfighting capability and interoperability.